In response to the suspension of Donavan Tate, who twice has tested positive for a "drug of abuse," the Padres will not try to recoup any of the $6.25 million they guaranteed Tate in August 2009, Padres CEO Jeff Moorad said today to this blog.
Moorad said of the Tate fallout: "I think we need to do a better job as an organization understanding the character and makeup of players who we bring in."
Ten weeks into his Padres job, drawing on reports from people he no longer employs, Moorad approved the drafting of Tate third overall knowing that agent Scott Boras had floated a $6 million pricetag for the Georgia two-sport prep star. The $6.25 million deal Moorad OK'd later that summer was a Padres record for an amateur, nearly double the $3.15 million to No. 1 pick Matt Bush in 2004.
The Padres hadn't paid all of the $6.25 million when Tate first tested positive -- which, according to a major league source, happened during the first half of the 2010 season. Tate, 20, is still due some money from the deal.
Clubs sometimes try to recoup salary or bonus money when a player is suspended or hurt for unusual reasons. During the 2008 season, for instance, Padres CEO Sandy Alderson withheld salary from shortstop Khalil Greene in response to Green's self-inflicted hand fracture. (The Padres, prodded by the players' union, later paid Greene the lost salary but again pursued the matter, leading to an undisclosed settlement in 2009.)
Moorad said some suspensions might induce the club to try to void portions of a contract--but not this one.
"In the Tate situation," Moorad said, "that hasn't been discussed and I'm not aware of it being an option. And to be fair, we have not given up on Donavan Tate. We believe he has the physical skills to succeed at the highest level in our game, and we're hoping that whatever mental lapses have occurred over the last couple of years are part of a maturation process. And we hope he continues growing as an individual."
After the 2009 season, Moorad hired two Red Sox executives -- general manager Jed Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod -- to head his baseball operations with an eye toward building a strong farm system. McLeod, who oversaw the Red Sox drafts, had a big say in the last two Padres drafts.
The Red Sox picked 28th in 2009, so their scouts saw less of Tate than the Padres did, but apparently their grade on the super-athletic center fielder wasn't as high.
"If we were picking third in that particular draft," McLeod said today, "we probably would have gone in a different direction. I know we didn't have Donavan rated as a top-5 pick in the draft.
"We just had questions with the swing-and-miss that we saw. We loved the athleticism. We loved the upside. We just had some questions with swing and missing to take a high school player there. But it's easy to say that when you're picking 28th."
Regarding his call for the Padres to "do a better job of judging makeup" in the draft, Moorad said he has the people in place to do so. "I believe they'll be successful at more thoroughly scouring the background and makeup of individual players," he said, adding that it's "not an exact science."
This Padres administration's first swipe at the draft didn't work out, the club and No. 9 pick Karsten Whitson not producing a signed deal by the August deadline last summer. Whitson was among the top-3 on San Diego's draft board and also its top-ranked prep pitcher, and the Padres told the University of Florida recruit as much. The Padres offered Whitson -- whom they'd awarded sky-high grades for competitiveness -- more than MLB's slot recommendation, but not as much as the top prep pitcher drafted was getting from the Pirates.
Moorad and Hoyer said the Padres reached a verbal agreement with Whitson's camp last summer, then Whitson's camp called 20 minutes before the deadline seeking more money
Hoyer told this blog afterward that if he could do it again, he would've tried to get a deal in writing during the draft.
Now the Padres are in the midst of negotiating with a quartet of prep draftees who, as a group, will command far more than $6.25 million. Among the advisers they're negotiating with is Scott Boras, the powerful player agent. The Padres say they are on good terms with Boras, who also represents Tate.
Agents can play a role in a club's vetting of potential draftees, sometimes limiting scouts' access to players. Moorad was a player agent who advised Bush in 2004. Bush, soon after signing the $3.15 million deal, was arrested and charged with an alcohol-related violation and biting a bouncer at a sports bar in greater Phoenix. After a second arrest for an altercation in San Diego, Bush said alcohol fueled his behavior.
Moorad said others from his firm worked with Bush leading up to the draft, and that Moorad didn't meet Bush until after the draft. As for Bush being a makeup risk, "I certainly didn't hear anything prior to (the draft)," Moorad said.
Such was the Bush fallout that Padres upper management devoted more money to psychological testing of potential draftees, starting in 2005.
Tate has 25 games left on the 50-game suspension, credit given him for the counseling he got while rehabilitating from a bruised knee earlier this season. Because it was his second violation, another positive test would result in a 100-game suspension.
The center fielder, who is to return to the Eugene Emeralds in late July, has only 183 plate appearances as a pro, having missed practice or playing time for a variety of setbacks. Among them was a pubic bone injury that the Padres said may have stemmed from Tate's days as a prep quarterback; a broken jaw suffered in an ATV accident within months of signing for $6.25 million ; a shoulder injury suffered while diving for a ball; and an illness to his father, Lars Tate, a former NFL running back, that summoned Donavan to Georgia during the 2010 spring training.
Three months ago, Tate suffered the knee bruise when he collided with fellow outfielder Everett Williams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the play.
"He just needs to stay on the field," McLeod said. "You certainly hope that this is really a big-time wakeup call for him -- and I do think it is."
Considering that former Padres scouting director Bill Gayton said after Tate signed that the 6-foot-3 righty "needed polish" as a hitter, and that Tate had much better hitting form as a sophomore than he did as a senior, the hiatuses have cost Tate crucial development time.
McLeod said the Red Sox also deemed Tate's swing exemplary in 2007, saying the right-hander "was a slam dunk top-5" prospect as a sophomore.
As a senior, Tate's swing "started getting more rotational and uphill," McLeod said.
As the Padres tell it, Tate improved his hitting form under the tutelage of Padres instructor Sean Berry, among others, last fall and carried it over into spring training, then this year's minor league season.
"He's put in a lot of work," McLeod said. "He's shown he can make adjustments at the plate. His attitude was fantastic, his work ethic was great.
"For Donavan, with what he has shown since really last offseason, it's all been positive when he's been on the field "